The future of the All England Club (AELTC), the home of tennis’ Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament, is facing a pivotal moment, with the venue’s neighbouring golf club to vote on a UK£65 million bid for its land.
Wimbledon Park Golf Club’s 750 members will decide on whether the offer, which would see each member receive UK£85,000, is to proceed to a further balloted vote in December.
The initial decision – to be made following a general meeting on Wednesday – is the first part of a two-step process that, if rejected, would see Wimbledon’s entire expansion project delayed for more than two decades.
Members will initially be asked whether they wish to change three aspects of the club’s constitution, which – if accepted – would give way to a final vote on whether to accept the AELTC’s offer. A 75 per cent majority is required for the bid to move forward.
The AELTC owns the lease to the golf club, it has stated that this marks its final and best offer for the 73-acre site, with the alternative being that the land would return to its ownership in 2041 for free.
However, there is a recognised need at AELTC to bring forward expansions to the Grand Slam site, with those in charge well aware of redevelopments taking place at the other three major events – at Roland Garros, the home of the French Open; Flushing Meadows, the New York location of the US Open; and Melbourne Park, where the Australian Open is held.
The AELTC is keen to move its qualifying event, which currently takes place in Roehampton, to the site of the tournament proper. Additionally, the move would enable the AELTC to increase its number of Championship courts from the current number of 18. The venue has experienced increased difficulty in housing the 40,000-strong crowds that the Grand Slam attracts daily.
If the deal were to be agreed, the golf club’s 18-hole course would remain active and usable until the end of 2021, while a nine-hole course would remain in action for a further year.
Wimbledon Park’s board has endorsed the acceptance of the initial vote – recommending that the constitution is changed in order to facilitate the final decision on the UK£65 million bid. However, it has given no indication as to its position on the sale itself.
AELTC chairman Philip Brook said: “To the extent there is any optimism it would be that we haven’t heard of any organised resistance. That isn’t to say it won’t happen.
“The 75 per cent hurdle is a high hurdle so we’ll see. But what we’ve been very clear with the golf club and their advisers is we’re not going to do this again. We’ve really pushed ourselves financially, there’s a lot of money on the table.
“It’s a declining asset because in 2041 the land reverts to the All England Club for free, so this is money just to accelerate the process by 20 years.”
Brook added: “We’ve made it very clear, our interest in doing this is we’d like to move our qualifying event on site. Most of the people who play qualifying lose and don’t ever make it inside of the gates of SW19, and we think that’s a shame, and we’re the only grand slam where that is the case.
“The whole experience of being at Wimbledon we think could be transformed. And this isn’t about building new big stadia, it’s about a wonderful opportunity, tennis in an English garden, there might be a second Henman Hill, all sorts of things.”